It’s often said by medical and mental health professionals alike that depression is one of the most treatable mental health disorders. While that’s true to a point, treatment for depression isn’t always as helpful as many people would like. Not only is it discouraging when treatment isn’t working, it can make you feel more hopeless than ever.
But before you throw your medication in the garbage or fire your therapist, it’s important to consider the various reasons -– and there are several -– that may be part or all of the problem. Rather than assume you’re destined to be depressed for the rest of your life, or conclude that therapy is a waste of time and antidepressants are just another way for “big pharma” to take more of your hard-earned money, keep reading. The real reason (or reasons) may be more subtle. It may be that once you make a change in one or two areas, you’ll find that improvements in your mood really can occur.
Here are some common hindrances to effective depression treatment:
1 – You’re not following your treatment regimen. Let’s face it – most people aren’t very good patients. Your treatment provider is not a miracle worker — his or her efforts to help you are going to be futile if you don’t do your part. For example, if you’re taking an antidepressant but are frequently skipping doses or not taking it as prescribed, it’s not going to help you. Also, if your therapist gives you homework assignments, suggests changes you can make, or encourages you to try out some new behaviors and you don’t follow through, the benefits of therapy will be extremely limited. It needs to be a two-way street. Talking can be cathartic, but usually much more is required to reap the real benefits.
2 – You’re using alcohol and/or drugs (any drugs that are illegal or not prescribed for you). While some may argue that an occasional cocktail or glass of wine is relatively harmless, alcohol is a depressant. It’s generally best avoided if you struggle with depression. Frequent, regular, or periodic heavy use can exacerbate your depression and make it difficult to get better. If you’re abusing drugs of any kind, those also need to go. If you can’t stop drinking or using, or if stopping abruptly could trigger withdrawal symptoms, then alcohol and drug treatment is essential. Your treatment provider can help you find a good rehab program and help coordinate your treatment. The latter ensures that everyone’s on the same page.
Another reason alcohol and drug use is a problem is that substances can easily become a crutch. You may be drinking or using to self-medicate, which significantly interferes with any type of treatment for depression. You must let your treatment provider(s) know about your use. Keeping secrets from your physician or mental health provider is a serious problem, and begs the question of why you’re in treatment at all. Do you really want to overcome your depression?
3 – There’s too much stress in your life. Stress interferes with both physical and psychological healing. If you’re under a lot of stress and / or are unable to manage stress adequately, your depression treatment is going to suffer. Period. It’s akin to expecting a burn on your hand to heal while you continue to hold it over a flame. While some stress is a natural and normal part of life, too much is destructive. Find healthy ways to reduce stress, such as regular exercise, yoga, meditation, and / or relaxation techniques. If situational factors are causing a lot of stress, work with your therapist to determine the best way to handle them.
4 – You have physical health issues that aren’t being addressed. Various medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism, can trigger or exacerbate symptoms of depression. You may have an underlying, undiagnosed medical condition that’s keeping you from getting better or even causing your depression. Talk to your primary physician about having a medical workup or physical –- especially if you haven’t had one in many years.
5 – You’re not getting good sleep. Depression can really interfere with healthy sleep patterns, and sleep-deprivation can wreak havoc with your mood. Troubles falling asleep, staying asleep, and / or frequently waking up before your alarm are common symptoms of depression. However, those can be improved when properly addressed. Practicing good “sleep” hygiene” is a vital step toward overcoming your depression. Talk to your treatment provider about ways you can improve your sleep.
6 – You have unrealistic expectations. Let’s face it; treatment benefits take time to manifest, and a lot of people get impatient. If you expect immediate miracles from medication or therapy, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Talk to your treatment providers about what you can realistically expect in terms of getting better. Therapy is a process, and medication is often a trial-and-error endeavor. Patience is essential if you want to see real, lasting, results. You may not click with your first therapist, and antidepressants often require trial and error before finding the right one and the right dose.
7 – You don’t have a good support system. One of the many potential symptoms of depression is social isolation. It’s often easier to just stay alone or away from everyone than try to socialize. Sadly, though, staying isolated is likely to keep you depressed. We all need positive human interaction, and we all need support from others. Granted, if your relationships with those closest to you (e.g., family members or a spouse), are toxic, you may need to create some distance, sever ties, and/or seek support elsewhere. A support group is one option. Work with your therapist to find ways to expand and enhance your support system.
8 – You’re not exercising. It may sound too simple, but regular exercise is very beneficial when it comes to alleviating symptoms of depression. In fact, studies have shown that regular exercise can be just as effective for depression as taking an antidepressant. If you’re getting treatment for depression but living a sedentary lifestyle, it’s time to change (with your doctor’s okay, of course). Even if it’s just walking for 20 or 30 minutes four or five times a week, getting yourself moving will help your mood. It will also help you sleep more soundly.
Everyone responds to treatment differently. However, consider the things listed above to determine if you there are some things you can change to boost your depression treatment and help yourself get better. It’s a process, so be patient with yourself. But you’ll likely find that by making some small changes on your own, you will feel more empowered and more in control of your life -– and that will also benefit your depression!